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In May 2014 PayPal’s product team got in touch with a very specific typeface brief detailing their functional and aesthetic requirements. They needed a sanserif typeface that was mobile-first, numeral-centric, and performed well across a range of screen resolutions. It had to be space-efficient, with special consideration for mobile devices in “portrait mode” without compromising legibility or readability. Structurally this meant letterforms with robust details, flat terminals and open counter-forms. Stylistically this meant a typeface aligned with humanist design principles. “Its spirit”, the brief said, “should be fluid, delightful, easy, calm and humanistic.”
I don’t often get briefs this precise. Most of the functional requirements were understandable and relatively easy to address. What I found most curious was their specification for a sanserif “humanist” style, especially coming from a large Silicon Valley company. Over the last five or so years it seems the prevailing typographic wisdom/style for the Valley set is firmly neo-grotesque. Apple kicked it off firstly with Helvetica, then later on moved to San Francisco. Google are iterating with Roboto, and almost everyone else has settled on one Helvetica derivative or another. So, naturally my interest was piqued and we kicked off the design process.
The direction we settled on was Dutch. In the 1930s Jan van Krimpen made Romulus Sans Serif, one of the first humanist sanserifs to match a seriffed typeface, but it never really made it past the concept stage into wider production. PayPal Sans takes several cues from these prototypical forms like the clean vertical terminals, low arches and very open counters. The proportions and spacing of PayPal Sans however are much more contemporary and appropriate for screen application.
PayPal Sans is a new screen-first typeface family designed for PayPal Inc. It is comprised of two complementary sub-families: PayPal Sans Big and PayPal Sans Small. It was designed with direction from the PayPal product team over the course of several months. PayPal Sans comes in 14 styles and is licensed exclusively for use by PayPal. Ben Kiel worked on the concepts, research and production. The hinting and mastering was done by FontWerk & Noe Blanco.